"You don’t think about this when you’re young, but time flows quickly, like a mountain brook instead of a lowland river. The years turn to decades, and the decades add up, and you think, “I don’t feel this old,” but you are. And you start noticing that you don’t see ducks from as far away as you used to, and you can’t understand your hunting partners’ low mumblings, and you’re a little slower getting on target when it’s time to “take’em!”
- Wade Bourne
The outdoor community, and the world, lost a true outdoorsman this week. Wade Bourne passed away at age 69 after cutting a Christmas tree on the farm that has been in his family since his granddad returned from fighting for the Confederacy. Nothing could be more stoic.
As an outdoor writer and communicator, Bourne won every award possible. His name was present on the byline as often in fishing publications as those in the world of hunting. He was regarded as an expert waterfowler and fresh- and saltwater fisherman. Not a participant; an expert.
I highly doubt there are any more Wade Bournes left in the world. Like me, there are those who have felt tremendous influence from Bourne’s writing style, or possibly his lifestyle, but in the end, most of us are just trying to be more like Wade Bourne.
In today’s age, Bourne will remain irreplaceable.
The sad occurrence brings up a question, and one that myself and other “communicators” ponder regularly. What happened to the great stories within our beloved outdoor pastimes?
As we move through an age in which instant gratification is being stressed at every turn, attention spans are measured in nano-seconds and quantity rules over quality in terms of content, is there still room for the Wade Bournes of the world?
Where do we turn to get away from it all?
Stepping back, I remember a time when a good story had the ability to get me dreaming for days.
For generations prior to mine, the experience may have started with Hemingway. Known as America’s most authentic outdoorsman, Hemingway was the epitome of the lost soul searching for answers through a bottle of whiskey and a rod and reel. In the Florida Keys, he’s remembered as a god.
However, I fell for the non-fiction narratives of the African adventurers, led by the pen of Henry Capstick. Capstick brought a style of outdoor journalism to the masses in a way perhaps never before seen. He took campfire hunting stories, often teetering between truth and legend, and brought them to paper. Capstick didn’t describe adventure, he transformed the reader into the adventurer.
Leaving Africa, I searched for the same feeling of adventure within my own lifestyle and outdoor pursuits in the Great Lakes region, and found it in the pages of In-Fisherman Magazine. At the time, I was head-over-heels with bass fishing, but still found myself temporarily obsessing with walleyes, crappies, muskies, even smelt.
In-Fisherman catered to my obsession. For the first time, I found writers whose script truly represented the things I saw and felt in the outdoors. As I’d later learn, the core principle behind such a talent is possessing the same internal obsession, and spending more time outdoors than in.
Through the years, I’ve worked with many great writers who were partially responsible for transforming my career. Now, working on both sides of the pen, I can appreciate how difficult their job is, and how much tougher it’s becoming.
Despite the death of our beloved Bourne, we’ve got a few great narrators still around. Anything with Will Brantley’s name on it is always worth a read. Don Wirth has led bass fishing journalism for years. Still, for my money, no one can top Doug Stange.
But narrative writing – the story-telling so important to many of us as youngsters – is leaving our world at a rapid pace. To combat advertisers' disinterest in print publications, editors are demanding more thoughtless, pointless and virtually worthless content than ever before.
Even online, our favorite sites stuff everything into photo galleries, hoping to get one more click out of visitors. No longer readers, we’re all just constant customers.
I still try to find time to read; it’s always been an important part of my life. But subject matter is getting more difficult. Sadly, gone are the days of anticipating the arrival of my favorite magazines, allowing a temporary transformation regardless of time of year. Internet sites are even worse.
I occasionally catch a glimpse of relief on the horizon. Americans are finding that decompression away from the electronic world is good for them. Reading a book – even those printed on paper – can make a dramatic difference in overall performance, both at the office and as a human being.
Ah, perhaps it’s too late. Maybe with the passing of icons like Wade Bourne we’re just inevitably closer to a world filled with meaningless crap controlled by Amazon and Google.
I hope not.
(Joe Balog is the often-outspoken owner of Millennium Promotions, Inc., an agency operating in the fishing and hunting industries. A former Bassmaster Open and EverStart Championship winner, he's best known for his big-water innovations and hardcore fishing style. He's a popular seminar speaker, product designer and author, and is considered one of the most influential smallmouth fishermen of modern times.)